“Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance” – Anne Sexton
The misanthropic among us, myself included, incline towards the idea that the human race, in aggregate, can’t be trusted. This usually amounts to no more than the mere inkling that everybody is lying to you, nobody means what they say, and horrible behavior is the evolutionary norm. But what if I had proof? Well, since the species is untrustworthy, you probably can’t trust me either because despite my best efforts and much to my chagrin, I’m only human. I tried being a plant, but as it turns out, nobody pays you for that since it primarily involves taking up space and soaking up the sun. Maybe a little oxygen production as an afterthought. I hate vegetables on principle, rather than taste. Where could I possibly find validation of this uncharitable belief? I went to church. Where else would you go? And I came away with the distinct impression that we have a desperate shortage of saints. I didn’t come to this conclusion by exhaustively reviewing hagiographic lists, a tiring endeavor as so many of the names are the same, rather by noting the fact that a popular miraculous prodigy attributed to saints is the power of bilocation (being in two places at once).
Obviously, the celestial bureaucracy has far too much work, and is understaffed, as they frequently need their crack teams of holy dudes to handle multiple assignments simultaneously and in widely separated geographic locations. Every company I’ve ever worked for that can’t afford or exhibits an unwillingness to hire more hands to handle its insurmountable workload, prefers to offer workshops on effective multi-tasking. No doubt, these are regularly scheduled in heaven, initiated by angelic corporate VP’s looking to cut back on massive expenditures (the universe is a big project, after all), or at least stop the financial bleeding. Since the only currencies in heaven are likely harps and hosannas, it seems they’ve had to get creative in order to attract and retain the right kind of employee. Maybe it’s a chicken and egg thing, that is, rather than offering a solid bilocation training plan, they focus recruitment on those who already have the skills, offering a generous afterlife package in compensation.
The lion’s share of documented bilocation cases involve saints. Given, the church spends considerably more time than anyone else recording such things, but still the staggering number of saintly emissaries who exhibited bilocation as part of their work ethic suggests something about bias in eternal hiring criteria. You should put it on your resume just to be safe. Now, I’ve written in detail on a few notable instances of these over-achieving fellows and frauleins, from St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori (see “Alphonsus Liguori, Patron Saint of Multi-tasking”) to Ven. María de Ágreda (see “The Bilocation of María de Ágreda: Two Nuns for the Price of One”), but as I kept turning up canonized rocks, more and more duty-bound bilocators emerged. For the sake of argument, let’s take a look at a few.
Saint Gerard Majella (1726-1725), was an Italian lay brother of the Catholic Redemptorist Congregation, founded unsurprisingly by Alphonsus Liguori of whom he was a companion, and spent his life ministering to the spiritual and temporal needs of the down-trodden in the Kingdom of Naples. And good old Gerard was always bi-locating, which is sensible as he suffered from poor health most of his life, and who wants to travel when you’re sick? You know those days where you just don’t want to go into work? He never had one. Now, you don’t get to be a saint by bilocating only once. You could just be showing off. When it is part of your standard repertoire, it’s speaks volumes about your work ethic. Saint Gerard was not content just to bilocate, of which there were numerous instances recorded (spent the night in ecstatic worship at the monastery while simultaneously keeping an appointment with Fr. Margotta; introducing himself to a Rev. Nicholo, while again never leaving the monastery). Gerard also like to combine his miracles.
At Lacedogna there lived a family called Di Gregorio, with whom the Saint was on terms of special intimacy. He had one day worked a striking miracle on their behalf, restoring to its unimpaired condition a large cask of wine, which had turned acid. Now it so happened that a servant in this house became dangerously ill. One evening in the midst of her pain she remembered this miracle, thought of Saint Gerard, and ardently desired to see him. “Oh, my dear Brother Gerard!” she cried out, “where are you? Why do you not come and deliver me from my sufferings?” The words were hardly out of her mouth before she heard a knock at the door. It was Gerard himself. He went straight up to her and said: “You called me; I am here to be of service to you. Have you a lively faith in God? If so, be cured!” He then made the sign of the Cross upon the girl’s forehead, and left her without another word. Her pains had vanished; she got up quite well. Needless to say, her ﬁrst anxiety was to thank her wonderful benefactor. But he was nowhere to be found. On inquiry it transpired that he had been seen by no one in the place outside of the Di Gregorio household. Except for that supernatural visit to the sick-room he had not been at Lacedogna all the day (Vassal-Phillips, 1915, p128-129).
Anyone who can restore a cask of spoiled wine to a drinkable state is truly a miracle worker in my book, but throw in some bilocation and you’ve got yourself one hard-working saint. Catholic theologians are a little torn over how to account for bilocation. Most maintain that multi-location can really happen via miracle, but Thomists and the idealogical followers of Thomas Aquinas in general think this smacks too much of strange occult powers, suggesting three alternatives: (1) Per visionem imaginariam – the imagination is miraculously impressed with a picture of the saint, although he is not physically present; (2) Per representationem exirinsecam in aliquo corpora aereo – a real external image of the saint is created by god, although the actual saint is elsewhere; or (3) Per visionem corporalem qua videtur Sanctus, licet sit longe distans – the saint is miraculously seen through the intervening space as though he were present. On a side note, somebody should research whether there is a historical pattern of saints working wonders with despoiled wine. Just saying, we might be onto a business idea if we can hire away a few saints.
Gerard spent his mortal time knocking about Italy, whereas some saints exhibit a higher degree of wanderlust, such as St. Martin de Porres (d.1639), are hot to trot. St. Martin was reputed to have spent his entire life at Monastery of the Holy Rosary in Lima, Peru, but according to reliable witnesses, he was seen in Mexico, China, Japan, Africa, the Philippines, and France. Juan Martin de Porres Velázquez was the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed slave in Peru, growing up in poverty on the streets of Lima. From the age of 15, he worked as a servant in the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima At the age of 24 he himself joined the Domincans and spent the rest of his life tending to the poor and sick. He is credited with all sorts of strange powers such as levitation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures, and an ability to communicate with animals, but he truly excelled at bilocation.
The best substantiated case of Blessed Martin’s strange presence in foreign lands to relieve human suffering and to console the hearts of Christians by his generosity and kindness is the following. The facts were vouched for under oath by a man named Francisco de Vega Montoya and concern Blessed Martin’s miraculous visit to northern Africa. A man whom Francisco knew well had been held a captive in Barbary. Many times he saw the servant of God carrying out his mission of mercy among the captives there. Martin cured the sick Christians, comforted the afflicted, clothed the naked, encouraged the prisoners to remain steadfast in their faith even in the face of such great trials, and consoled all with the hope of freedom. This man admitted that he did not know at that time the homeland of this angel of mercy; but his heart was ever intensely grateful for the sweet charity which he received at the hands of this mysterious servant of God. Upon recovering his liberty, the former captive went to Spain, and in the course of time he crossed the Atlantic, eventually coming to live in the city of Lima. One day he happened to visit the convent of the Dominican friars, when to his great joy he spied Brother Martin. Rushing up to him, he asked him a thousand questions about his voyage and greeted him in a most enthusiastic and grateful manner. However, the servant of God acted rather strangely, motioning to him to be quiet as they were in the presence of others. Then when they were alone, Martin begged the man not to mention the incident to anyone—that it was essential that secrecy concerning his deeds of mercy in Africa be preserved. This seemed a bit strange to the former captive, but attributing all this secrecy to the good Brother’s desire to escape praise, he at first obeyed. Later on, however, when Martin was out of the city, on the hacienda at Limatambo, he met some of the friars and told them how deeply grateful he was to Blessed Martin for the kindness shown him when he was a prisoner under the Moors. Then only did he discover that Martin’s presence in Algiers and all the labors for the good of souls of which he had been an eyewitness were miraculous in character (Kearns, 1937, p121-122).
Fr. Paul of Moll (d.1896), a Flemish Benedictine who is regarded as “The Wonder-Worker of the Nineteenth Century,” was another frequent bilocator. On numerous occasions when he was confined to his monk’s cell in the monastery for various ailments, he was soon gallivanting about Flanders tending to the spiritual needs of his flock.
The Wife of an Innkeeper in Oostacker, who was acquainted with Father Paul, reports the following: —”On the 4th of February 1896, at eleven o’clock in the morning, I suddenly noticed the presence of Father Paul in my inn, without having seen him enter. He seemed to be in excellent health, yet I reproached him for coming on foot, because, as a rule, I provided a carriage for him, free of charge, whenever he came to Oostacker. “Oh! I feel very well,” the Father remarked gaily as he rubbed his hands. I offered him a glass of wine which he declined, saying, “No, I shall not take anything, for I am in a hurry and have to make other visits, at the Beguinage and at a notary’s. You will never see me again; carefully note the day and hour of my visit. I came because you still require this”. So saying Father Paul took out from beneath his mantle a scapular of rough wool, about seven inches by five, to which a medal was attached, and this he gave me in exchange for my old one which he threw into the fire. At this date Father Paul had been confined to his room for a long time by dropsy of which he died on the 24th of the same month. Then he gave me a handful of medals to distribute among those who would make good use of them. Having given me further advice, he strictly forbade me to assist at his funeral because, he said, I would not be able to overcome my emotion. After this short conversation of only ten minutes, he said, “Go now to the kitchen and put your potatoes on the fire”. The potatoes were, as a matter of fact, peeled and ready for boiling. I went to the kitchen and came back to the room after a few minutes, but to my great astonishment, Father Paul had disappeared (Speybrouck, 1914, p174-175).
Father Paul was a busy guy, and couldn’t let a trivial matter like terminal dropsy slow him down. There are plenty of other instances of saints bilocating. Some of the other more notable cases worth looking at should you have a hankering are St. Paul of the Cross (d. 1775), St. Joseph of Cupertino (d. 1663), St. Lydwine of Schiedam (d. 1433), St. Catherine dei Ricci (d. 1590), St. Francis of Paola (d. 1507), St. Drogo (d. 1186), St. Anthony of Padua (d. 1231), St. Peter Regaldo (d. 1456), St. Francis Xavier (d. 1552), St. Vincent Pallotti (d. 1850), St. John Bosco (d. 1888), and even in the 20th Century Padre Pio (d. 1968). Dig around in the hagiographic literature, and I have no doubt you can find dozens more of these determined bilocators. Obviously, Heaven has a staffing problem.
One would think an omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent monotheistic god could just make a few more saints when the supply started to run low. Having never been omnipotent despite wishing for precisely that on countless falling stars, I must conclude that he moves in mysterious ways, resorting to bilocation rather than swelling the ranks of the saints with those of questionable character. But don’t take it from me on faith. From the literature, it would seem that the world’s monasteries are the minor league farm teams for the celestial workforce, and recent reports indicate the a number of long suffering monasteries are currently being forced to close due to current disinterest in becoming a monk. Monastic life ain’t easy. Hence the celestial staffing shortage. The again a lot of the saints themselves had colorful backgrounds before they found their calling, so perhaps Heaven needs to loosen up their hiring criteria, for as Ambrose Bierce said, a saint is just “a dead sinner, revised and edited”. Maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.
Kearns, John Chrysostom, father, 1894-. The Life of Blessed Martín De Porres, Saintly American Negro and Patron of Social Justice. New York: P. J. Kenedy & sons, 1937.
Speybrouck, Édouard Désiré Marie Joseph van, 1845-. The Very Rev. Father Paul of Moll: a Flemish Benedictine and Wonder-worker of the Nineteenth Century, 1824-1896. 2nd ed. Clyde, Mo.: Benedictine Convent, 1914.
Vassall-Phillips, O. R. 1857-1932. Life of Saint Gerard Majella: Lay-brother of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. 4th ed. London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1915.